by Sally Milano, USTA.com
Now that the 2006 USTA Pro Circuit season has come to a close, it’s a good time to reflect back on the last 12 months and what an exceptional year it has been. From history-making accomplishments from players like Scott Lipsky and David Martin, who became the all-time winningest doubles team in the history of the Circuit, to breakthrough performances from up-and-comers like Sam Querrey, who established himself as one of the rising young stars in the game, the year was full of moments that were both memorable and inspirational.
In 2006, the USTA Pro Circuit returned to Hurricane Katrina-ravaged Louisiana for an amazing five tournaments – two in Hammond and one each in Baton Rouge, New Orleans and Lafayette. We saw Mardy Fish, a former top-20 player who has battled serious injuries, successfully competing on the Circuit to work his way back to the top of the rankings. We also saw the emergence of more than a dozen young Americans, who claimed the first professional titles of their careers in 2006.
Let’s take a look back now at some of the people and milestones that made this year one to remember on the USTA Pro Circuit.
Amer Delic. A 6-foot, 5-inch right-hander with a powerful serve-and-volley game, Delic had an incredibly strong finish to the 2006 season, reaching the semifinals or better in six of his last eight Challengers and compiling a 26-6 singles record in the process. Among his results, the 24-year-old captured two titles in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., and Louisville, Ky., reached finals in Calabasas, Calif., and New Orleans, and advanced to the semifinals in Nashville and Lubbock, Texas.
|Amer Delic© Phil Walter/Getty Images|
Delic, a former All-American at the University of Illinois, finished 2006 ranked a career-high 93rd in the INDESIT ATP Rankings – his first ever top-100 finish. He also ended the year leading all men in prize-money earnings, breaking the record for most prize money ever earned on the USTA Pro Circuit with $51,545.
Mardy Fish. After dropping to as low as No. 341 in the ATP rankings in February, the 2004 Olympic silver medalist began an impressive comeback by winning the Tallahassee Challenger in April – his first appearance on the USTA Circuit since November 2002. The following week, he captured his second career ATP title in Houston and then returned to Challenger play over the next couple months, where his results included winning the Surbiton title and finishing runner-up at Tunica Resorts, Miss.
Fish eventually returned to full-time ATP play in the summer and went on to reach the quarterfinals at Newport, Washington and Metz and the third round of Wimbledon. He finished the year ranked an impressive 47th in the world.
Robert Kendrick. After missing four months last year with a wrist injury that required surgery, Robert Kendrick bounced back in 2006 to post his most successful year to date, finishing in the top 100 for the first time in his career with a year-end ranking of No. 87.
Among the 26-year-old right-hander’s many impressive results, he took home the sixth USTA Pro Circuit singles title of his career, as a qualifier, at the Forest Hills, N.Y., Challenger held on clay in May. He also finished runner-up at the Dallas Challenger in February and reached four consecutive semifinals at Challenger tournaments during the fall – Tulsa, Sacramento, Calabasas and Louisville.
In doubles, Kendrick captured his first career ATP title at Newport with partner Jurgen Melzer, while on the USTA Circuit he won in Calabasas, reached the final at Louisville, and advanced to semifinals in the Bronx and Lubbock.
Kendrick also picked up the first Grand Slam win of his career at Wimbledon, defeating Yen-Hsun Lu of Chinese Taipei in straight sets. He then nearly upset Rafael Nadal in the second round, taking a two-sets-to-love lead over the No. 2 seed and eventual finalist before falling, 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5, 6-4.
Scott Lipsky and David Martin. Scott Lipsky and David Martin became the all-time winningest doubles team in USTA Pro Circuit history after capturing the title at the $75,000 Music City Challenger in Nashville in November. The win gave the former Stanford teammates -- both 25 -- a total of 14 USTA Pro Circuit doubles titles together as a team – one more than the world's top-ranked doubles tandem of Bob and Mike Bryan, who have won 13 USTA doubles championships in their careers.
|David Martin (l) and Scott Lipsky (r) pose with their trophy after winning the doubles title in Yuba City, Calif., earlier this year|
Lipsky and Martin had 11 titles coming into 2006 and, in addition to Nashville, picked up wins during the year at the $50,000 Challengers in Yuba City, Calif., and Tulsa, Okla.
A 6-foot, 1-inch right-hander from Stanford, Calif., Lipsky also won the $50,000 Challenger in Lubbock, Texas, with Chris Drake in September, giving him 17 career USTA Pro Circuit doubles titles and putting him alone in second place on the individual all-time doubles list behind Tripp Phillips, who has 20.
Martin, a 6-foot right-hander from Huntington Beach, Calif., has captured a total of 15 USTA doubles titles during his career.
Cecil Mamiit. Mamiit, a 30-year-old Los Angeles native, led all men with five doubles titles in 2006, picking up championships in Waikoloa, Hawaii, Forest Hills, N.Y., Winnetka, Ill., New Orleans and Calabasas, Calif.
Sam Querrey. The 6-foot, 6-inch Californian turned pro in June after graduating from high school and hasn’t looked back since. Querrey, now 19, picked up three USTA Challenger titles during the year, claiming his first in his pro debut at the $50,000 event in Yuba City, Calif., in June. Two weeks later, he won another championship at the $50,000 Challenger in Winnetka, Ill., and he earned his third at the $50,000 tournament in Lubbock, Texas, in September. He began the year ranked 756th in the world and ended 2006 more than 600 spots higher at an impressive No. 130.
|Sam Querrey© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images|
Querrey’s breakthrough year includes winning his first ATP match at Indian Wells against Bobby Reynolds, before falling to James Blake in three sets, 1-6, 6-1, 6-3, in the second round. The big-serving teen also took a set from world No. 2 Rafael Nadal at the ATP Masters Series Cincinnati, and he earned his first Grand Slam win at the US Open, beating Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber in straight sets before losing to former French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.
Considered one of the top prospects from the United States, Querrey signed a four-year clothing contract with adidas in October that is believed to be the most lucrative clothing and shoe deal since 2000, when Andy Roddick signed with Reebok. Adidas will reportedly pay the teen $250,000 a year, in addition to a six-figure signing bonus and performance bonuses.
Michael Russell. In his eighth year as a pro, Russell had his best season since 2001, finishing the year ranked 144th in the world, up 219 spots from his year-end rank of No. 363 last year. The 28-year-old right-hander from Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., took home three USTA Circuit singles titles in 2006 – two at the $50,000 Challengers in Maui, Hawaii, and the Bronx, N.Y., and one at the $15,000 Futures event in Brownsville, Texas.
With the victories, the 5-foot, 8-inch right-hander, perhaps best known for his performance at the 2001 French Open, when he almost upset top-seed and defending champion Gustavo Kuerten in the fourth round, has won a total of 15 USTA singles championships, more than anyone in the history of the USTA Pro Circuit.
Dudi Sela. Sela, a 21-year-old from Israel, won more USTA Pro Circuit singles titles than any other man this year – all at the Futures level – with five. He picked up consecutive wins twice during the year, at the events in Claremont, Calif., and Costa Mesa, Calif., in September and in Waikoloa, Hawaii, and Honolulu in November. His other win came in Baton Rouge, La., the last week of October.
Jesse Witten. Jesse Witten had his best season to date on the USTA Pro Circuit in 2006, winning three titles – one at a Challenger event in Joplin, Mo., and two at Futures tournaments in Harlingen, Texas, and Tampa, Fla.
Other highlights for the 24-year-old from Naples, Fla., include reaching the doubles semifinals at the Vancouver Challenger and advancing to singles quarterfinals at the Challengers in Louisville, Ky., Sacramento, Calif., and New Orleans. He also made his Grand Slam debut at the US Open, where he qualified into the main draw and extended fellow American Paul Goldstein to five sets before falling 6-3, 6-4, 2-6, 3-6, 6-1, in the first round.
Witten, who graduated from the University of Kentucky in 2005, ended 2006 with a career-best ranking of No. 172, up 307 spots from his year-end finish of No. 479 last year.
Julie Ditty. Ditty won a total of eight titles this year – two in singles ($10,000 Hilton Head, $10,000 Houston) and six in doubles ($50,000 Lawrenceville, $50,000 Houston, $50,000 Ashland, $75,000 Albuquerque, $50,000 Bronx, $50,000 St. Paul).
|Julie Ditty 338x244 homepage© Ed Goldman|
With these victories, the former Vanderbilt All-American has captured a combined 25 USTA Pro Circuit titles during her career – five in singles and 20 in doubles – and is second on the all-time list only to Nana Miyagi, who has won 30 USTA championships. She began the year in fourth place with 17 but passed Lindsay Lee-Waters (21) and Lisa McShea (23).
Laura Granville. Granville, a two-time NCAA and USTA Girls’ 18s singles champion, had an outstanding year in both USTA Pro Circuit and WTA Tour play.
On the USTA Circuit, the 5-foot, 9-inch right-hander from Chicago captured the singles title at the $50,000 event in Charlottesville, Va., as well as the doubles title at the $50,000 tournament in San Francisco. She also finished runner-up in doubles at the $50,000 event in Houston and reached three singles semifinals – two at the $75,000 events in Albuquerque and Pittsburgh and one at the $50,000 tournament in San Francisco.
On the WTA Tour, Granville won her second career doubles title at Quebec City, advanced to the quarterfinals at Memphis and Hobart, and reached the third round of the Australian Open and Indian Wells. For the fifth straight year, she finished the year ranked in the world’s top hundred, this time at No. 70.
Varvara Lepchenko. The 5-foot, 11-inch lefty from Uzbekistan had a breakthrough year in 2006, winning singles titles at the $75,000 event in College Park, Md., and the $25,000 tournament in Allentown, Pa., reaching the singles and doubles final at the $75,000 event in Dothan, Ala., and advancing to two other doubles finals at the $75,000 tournament in Washington D.C. and the $50,000 event in Lexington, Ky.
Lepchenko made her Grand Slam debut at the US Open in September. After qualifying into the main draw, she notched a 6-7 (9), 6-1, 6-1 victory over Catalina Castano in the first round, before falling to No. 26 seed Marion Bartoli, 6-1, 6-2 in the second. After the tournament, she surged into the top 100 of the rankings for the first time in her career, moving from No. 118 to No. 95. She ended 2006 ranked 98th.
Lilia Osterloh. Currently ranked 116th in the world, Osterloh kicked off the 2006 season by winning her second career USTA Pro Circuit singles title and reaching the doubles final at the $50,000 event in Waikoloa, Hawaii. Later in the year, she reached the singles semifinals at the $75,000 event in Dothan, Ala., and advanced to the doubles final and the singles quarterfinals at two $50,000 tournaments in Orange, Calif., and Charlottesville, Va.
|Ahsha Rolle© Donald Miralle/Getty Images|
The 28-year-old veteran also reached her first WTA semifinal since 2002 at Quebec City as a qualifier. Following the tournament, her ranking improved from No.121 in the world to No. 91, moving her into the top 100 for the first time since the 2005 French Open.
Ahsha Rolle. The 21-year-old right-hander’s outstanding year was highlighted by a big run in the fall, when she captured the singles title at the $75,000 event in Albuquerque without dropping a set and upsetting two of the top three seeded players – No. 1 Laura Granville and No. 3 Stephanie DuBois – en route to the championship. The next week, she advanced to the semifinals at the $50,000 event in Ashland, Ky., and then followed up that performance by reaching the final at the $50,000 tournament in Troy, Ala.
With her victory in Albuquerque, Rolle now has tallied a total of five career USTA Circuit titles – three in single and two in doubles. She finished 2006 ranked No. 140, a career best.
Milagros Sequera. Sequera, a 26-year-old from Venezuela, had one of the best year’s of any woman competing on the USTA Pro Circuit in 2006. She won a total of seven titles – two in singles and five in doubles – more than any other player, and finished the year as the women’s top prize-money earner with $38,445.
|Ashley Weinhold© Tammye Canada|
Ashley Weinhold has been one of the country's top junior players the last several years, and the 17-year-old Texan is now making her mark at the pro level, as well.
Weinhold had a breakthrough year on the USTA Pro Circuit in 2006, winning the first pro singles title of her career at the $10,000 event in Southlake, Texas.
She also picked up two other victories during the year in doubles, taking home her first career pro championship at the $10,000 event in Houston in June, where she also qualified into the singles draw and advanced to the semifinals. She added a second doubles title to her resume at the $10,000 event in Edmond, Okla., in July.